Eli Brooks was only supposed to stay in Haiti for a few weeks. Like many students, the mechanical engineering senior’s initial plans for the summer of 2020 have been scrapped due to the pandemic. He had the opportunity to volunteer at the Have Faith Haiti Mission and Orphanage in Port-au-Prince for four weeks. As his month in Haiti drew to a close, Brooks changed his mind thanks to a persuasive toddler.
“People were asking me to stay, and it’s pretty hard to say no to a three-year-old who says’ Mr. Eli, can you stay here and teach me? ‘ Brooks remembers. He decided to take a leave of absence from MIT during the fall 2020 semester and stayed in Haiti for an additional five months.
The six months Brooks spent in Haiti would be transformative for both him and the children he worked with.
For most of his time in Have Faith Haiti, Brooks stayed on the quarter acre lot. Her room was in a small building in the middle of the playground. The small room had no running water or air conditioning, but Brooks was amazed how quickly the comfort he took for granted in his home didn’t seem to matter.
“In a few days, I realized that although this is the most difficult place I will live, it is also the happiest I have ever been,” he adds.
When Brooks arrived at the orphanage, the students had been isolated for six months due to Covid-19. With so many immunocompromised children, there were few visitors, which made Brooks’ arrival all the more exciting.
At first, his role was similar to that of a camp counselor. In the morning, he organized obstacle courses for children and refereed the throws of water balloons. During the afternoon, he taught the younger ones to read and to discuss books with the older ones. It was this teaching experience that sparked a spark at Brooks.
“Once I started teaching kids to read, I fell in love with it. That’s when I decided to take on more of a teaching role, and I think that’s the biggest decision I’ve made, maybe in my life, ”recalls -he.
Reproduction of MIT’s Toy Product Design Course
After deciding to stay to teach for five months, Brooks drew on his experiences in mechanical engineering courses at MIT. He saw an opportunity to reproduce class 2.00b (Design of toy products), when teaching middle and high school students. Offered to first-year MIT students each spring, the course introduces students to product design and the product development process. At the end of the semester, students present a working prototype of a toy.
The first half of the semester, Brooks taught students basic practical engineering skills. He used some of the slides developed by Professor David Wallace and speaker Joshua Ramos for the class.
“It was amazing explaining what engineering was to these kids and seeing that they fell in love with it,” Brooks said.
For the second half of the semester, students presented ideas for toy products. As in 2.00b, students would start with dozens of ideas, sketch the concepts and reduce them to the first three. They then built prototypes for the youngest children in the orphanage to test.
While MIT students in 2.00b have access to machines, electronics, and various materials on campus, Brooks had to operate the classroom with cardboard, paper, and glue sticks. These limited resources have not stifled students’ creativity.
Brooks was inspired by the prototypes the students developed at the end of the semester. The projects included a “Live Action FIFA” and “Mad Ball” soccer game, which looked like a typical pinball game. The games were so popular that the youngest children at the orphanage played them during Brooks’ departure party.
How to live your life better
At the end of his stay in Haiti last winter, Brooks reflected on how the experience had changed his life. When he first arrived in Port-au-Prince, he was struggling with what he wanted to do with his life and struggled with his own sanity and happiness.
Seeing how happy the children of Have Faith Haiti were with so few material possessions or the comforts he had become accustomed to gave Brooks an education in happiness.
“I think going there taught me a lot about how to be happy and deal with mental health,” he says. “These kids have nothing and they were happier than me. I really learned to live my life better.
While entering his final year at MIT, Brooks is now exploring career paths in teaching. He recently applied to graduate programs for a Masters in Education with a specialization in teaching in the downtown area.
Wherever his career takes him, Brooks knows he will one day find his way back to Haiti.
“There is no doubt that I will return, I hope someday soon. These people became my friends and family for six months, and the impact they had on my life cannot be overstated, ”he adds.